Chains of Love: Clarity through Fuzz

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Chains of Love sounds like a girl group straight out of the 60s, fronted by singer Nathalia Pizarro and singer/guitarist Rebecca Marie Law Gray. They are the face, but recently, before their show at Shea Stadium, I sat down with the four guys who make up the core of the band – Felix Fung on guitar, Clint Lofkrantz on bass/guitar, Henry Beckwith on keys, and Al Boyle on drums. While we hung out they discussed how they write and record, how they don’t fuss around, and how they work hard but hardly work. Our conversation might seem to have some interesting paradoxes, but with all the members having former bands or still in other bands, they’re no strangers to the music scene, and they have it together. Chains of Love as a band is practically brand new, but at the rate they’re going, this Toronto-based sextet will be getting even more press in no time.

Kelly Knapp: So I have to ask – Does your band name have anything to do with the Erasure song?

Felix Fung: No, nothing to do with the Erasure song. Although I like Erasure.

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KK: How did you guys form?

FF: I have a studio that I run and I’ve been wanting to do a girl group project, and Clint wanted to do the same thing. We work together a lot, on a lot of different bands, and so we started it off together, and first thing was to pick up Nat, because she’s the singer – she’s got that amazing voice. After that everybody else just started showing up. It was like one day I had free at the studio, and whoever was free that day came in. We all record together usually and play in different bands.

KK: So you just got your friends to kind of jump on it.

FF: Yeah, basically. All the people that I might have recorded, there’s usually one or two people in the band that I really like, or think can play really well, and I’ve been working with Clint for a long long time.

Clint Lofkrantz: We kind of planned out what sounds we wanted in the band, too. Not just guitars, but we wanted to have keyboards and organ, and dual girl harmonies.

KK: So you set out right from the beginning to have that throwback 60s girl-group sound.

FF: Yeah, it was throwback in a sense that we wanted the idea of that instrumentation, like do we don’t horns or anything like that, so we did it with fuzz guitars, or something like that. It was also, we all really like modern stuff too – garage, Spacemen 3, and things like that. I think all that shows up. I don’t know what Clint’s referencing when he comes up with a line, or I don’t know what Al’s referencing…sometimes you do, but it’s all over the place, just sort of recorded in a certain way and presented in a certain way, with really doo-woppy chords and stuff like that.

KK: So you don’t really venture much out of that realm.

FF: We do, just most people haven’t heard the other stuff yet. We have a bunch of songs recorded, but the songs that people know right now are in that vein. And I think that territory is really expansive. Like, when I say girl group, it’s not necessarily just Spector. There’s a lot of west coast Beach Boys-y stuff too. It’s not because it’s dated, it’s just what we find still relevant today. Things that boys and girls talk about are still relevant today.

KK: And it seems to be coming back around, as a genre, the whole retro sound.

CL: I think more of a production is really what people are trying to get back to, because it went really noisy for quite a while, and now people are trying to get clean or trying to get expansive. They’re trying to make it sound like they have a billion instruments. Some bands just don’t have the music there to do it, though, and it sound kind of weird when they do it, so if you have a band playing proper music now days, it totally works really well. This happened to be a fortunate band to do that with.

FF: Yeah, like a lot of the garage we listen to, like Black Lips, or even the girl group stuff that’s coming around right now, it’s like, yeah we might like it but I want to play like The Wrecking Crew too. That sort of modern, lo-fi sound. But even that’s a conceit in a way. We had dirt there just to be like, that’s a modern touch, you know, like that’s a really modern thing that people do. But we can go clean if we want.

Al Boyle: we don’t spend a lot of time recording.

FF: Yeah, and we do it super quick. We don’t fuss about it at all. It’s like that model of people walking into the studio with their musicians, and it’s just like, here’s the song, we’ve got 3-4 hours to do this. And then they arrange the song, they do it, they get the vocal arrangements down, and then they go. And I think that’s it. We really trust each other and ourselves, and we really try not to think about anything too hard, and just let it go. No fuss about ‘oh, that little note’s out,’ or anything like that.

KK: Is that what you think sets you apart from the other bands right now?

Henry Beckwith: I think it’s the way we record. Most bands don’t have the availability of a studio, so we’ll sit there and write and be able to record right then.

CL: That’s true.

HB: It really captures an energy.

CL: All of our friend’s bands, they would just record on their laptops, you know, and it does just turn out noisy, but I think that’s just a weird thing going on with bands, that they don’t know like, in a comfort zone if they should be noisy live and keep that going in their recordings. They don’t have a safe zone, in a way.

FF: In a way, when I heard a record that’s really built like oh, it’s so dirty and so lo-fi, I know I’m going to be disappointed live. Because that comes after everything, and it’s so much about the crappy recording medium being the identity of the band, where they use the dictaphone or the 4-track. I know we’re dirty, but we hear every little part. I try to make sure that it’s blown out and it sounds like a record that’s been played for 40 years, but I can still hear all the details and the clarity. It still has the modern girth. It’s still a little bit bass heavy, or it’s just a little more impactful than a lot of that other stuff that I find is just getting a little bit old hat, where a band comes out and they’re super dirty or unintelligible and then people are intrigued by it because they don’t know what’s there. What’s behind the fuzz? The fuzz is there, but we’re playing with it rather than just seeing what happens.

KK: Do you think you’re best watched live?

FF: No, I think we’re better both ways. Just because we all really love to watch live shows and these are good songs. We know if you’ve got a good song it’s not really reliant on…like you could have Nat sing it with just Henry playing piano and it’d still be really good. If the song’s there and the melody’s there and all the parts are there, it doesn’t really matter what the tones are, I don’t think. It’s just what we decided on that day. We play a little bit differently every night, but there’s still that really good song there that everyone can get behind.

KK: Yeah, because I’ve heard a lot of bands that have their really DIY bedroom recording and it sounds cool, but then you see them in an unplugged setting and you’re like, ‘wait…what?’

FF: Yeah, and I don’t think we’d ever really want to do an unplugged thing because if we wanted it that way, we would have done it that way. Everybody here is a fantastic player. I get really worried when you say something like that, when people think you’re Steely Dan or something, especially nowadays because that’s so frowned upon. Even a singer who gives it is kind of like, it seems so out of vogue right now, but what are you going to do if she can sing like that, tell her to sing worse? Tell Clint to play stupider? Dumb it down a bit? It’s like, no. That’s silly.

KK: You guys have a 7” out right now. Do you have a full-length coming?

CL: No, we’ve only been a band for eight months. We started in the fall, and this will be our seventh show tonight.

KK: Ever??

FF and CL: Yeah.

KK: Wow.

CL: And our 7” just came out.

KK: So you guys are literally just starting out as a band.

HB: Pretty much, yeah.

CL: But we’ve all been playing for so long. It’s not bad that all this is happening so quick; we can do it. The live stuff came pretty quick too, and definitely we’ll grow and get better. But still, everyone is such a great player.

Al Boyle: We’ve all known each other in the scene for such a long time.

KK: It sounds like that’s kind of your thing – just get in the studio, churn it out, now you have shows.

HB: Yeah, everybody here just works really well together.

FF: I think we all work really hard too, and we’re not afraid to tell people yeah, that’s a product of hard work. It’s no accident or anything like that. Sh*t, I just ruined everything for us.

CL: (laughs) We’ve got to have some mystery!

KK: I thought there was no effort at all!

FF: No, actually it wasn’t! Because I’m just doing what I’m doing, everybody’s just doing what they’re doing, and you show up, you smoke, drink some tea, have lunch, trip out, and then you’re done.

KK: So you guys really just work that well together.

FF: Yeah. I think that’s the key anyway, just not questioning ourselves, not questioning each other, just letting it happen. We start something but we don’t have like, ‘oh, it’s gotta be this way.’ We’re also pretty loose people. If it’s going this direction, we’ll just follow it. We’ll take advantage of it. We’re all really good at taking advantage of mistakes, too. I think that helps move it along quickly. Sometimes you don’t even feel like you’re writing the line; like it’s already there, someone just has to play it.  Clint plays a lot of guitar on the record. He’s playing bass live, but…

HB: It doesn’t matter.

FF: It doesn’t matter, we’re just there to get the song done.

CL: Anyone can play anything, it’s not like an ego trip at all. Just the fact that we’re playing with all various seasoned musicians in different bands and still in different bands that may be doing very well or not, but it’s just to hang out and do good music, and that’s all we care about. We’re fortunate, everything that’s happened to us right now, but still, it’s more just about getting along with people, and trying to put out something worth (it) instead of ‘we need to do this,’ or ‘we need to make it here.’ It doesn’t matter. We just want to write good music.

KK: Do you have goals for the band, or are you even thinking of terms like that?

FF: All our goals were a lot stupider than actually what’s happening right now. Our goals originally – we put ourselves on a schedule, like a song every Tuesday, and every two weeks we have a single and we’re just going to keep doing that and keep doing that and hopefully somebody was going to put out a 7” here and there. Everything else that’s starting to happen right now was beyond what I was thinking of, anyway. I can’t speak for everyone else, but definitely not something I planned.

CL: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. We knew people would probably like it, but then once we started getting a bit of attention, we started setting our standards a little bit higher and be like, ‘yeah we should try to get a 7” every three months’ or something, and just send it out to the right people and see where that gets us, and one thing turns into another, and now…it’s like a runaway train right now. It’s pretty cool.

(laughter)

CL: It’s true though! I thought we were just going to be in the studio for a long time, and now we’re in New York.

AB: Yeah it’s weird.

FF: And you avoid talking like a cliché the whole time, and then all of a sudden this stuff happens and every cliché applies. And then you go home and everyone thinks you’re an asshole.

KK: Are the 60s groups your biggest influence?

CL: They’re definitely probably the lead thing, for sure. Not even just for the song style, but the actual production. Like you hear bands like Camera Obscura and they have that sound, but they have the Belle & Sebastian vibe, but they have their own thing.

FF: But I think it’s even beyond that. We listen to the Bee Gees, and a lot of British psych and soul, and mod stuff too, and The Beatles and all that stuff too, and The Kinks, so to me, I know it’s two girls and it’s got that washed out Spectory sound to it, but within all that there’s every other thing. There’s lame-ass 60s bands like The Association that I listen to a lot, and funny weird singles that Clint will be into a lot, and Henry – he just likes kraut rock.

CL: Which is really shocking to us.

HB: Only kraut rock. Seriously.

KK: Well, that’s actually a pretty wide genre – it’s kind of an umbrella label, so I guess you could lump a lot of things under that.

CL: Watch it, Henry’s sensitive about that.

KK: Ok, maybe we’ll debate that another time.

KK: Are there any current bands right now that you guys are really into?

CL: Well, you’re asking for a long answer on that one.

KK: Ok, what was the last thing you listened to?

CL: I’m not going to tell you that, that’s embarrassing! Do you know that Kreayshawn chick from Oakland?  She’s a rapper. Her mom was in the Trashwomen…the Trashwomen are awesome. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been listening to.

HB: I’ve just been watching a lot of TV. I quite honestly haven’t been listening to music.

CL: Oh, I made a mixtape for the band, to put on this website, you look death.ly. It’s this Toronto blog, and a bunch of artists do guest mixtapes for this blog, and I did one for Chains of Love.

KK: Cool. Anyone else?

FF: Do you want to know anything about the other two? The good lookin’ two?

KK: The girls?

FF: AKA, the girls.

KK: Yeah, tell me about them.

FF: They sing.

(laughter)

FF: Some say really well. I’d say really well.

CL: Nah, Nathalia’s got a friggin’ huge set of lungs on her. She can belt it out. She was definitely the first pick to do this.

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FF: I don’t think this would have happened…

CL: No it wouldn’t have been the same.

FF: We were actually afraid she was too good of a singer.

CL: She can professionally sing, like American Idol sing, and so we really had to mold it a little bit. Rebecca’s good too.

FF: Rebecca was the big surprise for me, because she’s so like a 13-year-old kid, because she’s so shy, but like a really hot 13-year-old kid.

CL: (laughing) I was waiting to see what he was going to say, and just see where he was going with that.

FF: I don’t even know where I was going with that, I just started talking.

CL: But she’s super talented, too. She can play anything, and she can sing really well.

FF: And her harmonies, I think that really helped. Actually, for me, when her harmonies went on, that was the thing that made it more than just what it is.

HB: She was the last.

CL: Yeah, it kind of completed it.

AB: Some bands don’t really care about harmonies anymore, and with this band that’s still at the forefront.

FF: If you’ve got harmonies live, you’ll get everybody, no problem.

KK: So you guys write the songs, and then do you write the words too, or the girls write their own lyrics?

FF: Clint usually brings in the chords or something; some sort of start. And then the band will start goofing around on it and arranging it in some way.

CL: I guess I come in with more of a song idea and then we’ll play it out, try it, and we’ll (be) like, ‘actually let’s cut this part out, let’s put some breaks in here,’ and it just sort of shapes up. It’s just easier that way if someone’s got a solid idea and we can go and change it around and then the song’s done like that (snaps).  And then the girls, they hear the song turning into something, and they start thinking and start scribbling stuff down.

FF: Like Rebecca will learn the chords and then they’ll go into another room and start writing in their own way, and it’s always a surprise. What I’m thinking is sort of never what comes out, but that’s good.

CL: Especially vocal arrangement stuff. I always have a general idea of what the vocals should be, and then they always turn into something different but it sounds great, because they pair up with that whole harmony thing.

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KK: And then they surprise you with it and it all becomes one.

CL: In a way, they’re young musicians at this type of stuff. The girls can sing, but I don’t think they’ve ever really been put in place in a band that they really can sing in, and have something to fill it up with, and now that they do, I think they’re just picking up.

FF: There’s just so many ideas, like if I’m trying to come up with my part or whatever… there’s just so many ideas to bounce off of, like you don’t feel the pressure to have to make it or carry it, in a way. I think that what happens with Nat, she’ll just be sort of humming along while we’re working our junk out, and she’ll do something, but she’s looking around the room, and if Clint or somebody, or myself are like, ‘oh yeah that sounds good,’ then they’ll retreat to the other room and know that they have something there that everyone is down with. I think we’re all like that too. You play with five ideas and somebody says, ‘oh yeah that’s it!’

CL: That’s the other thing – there are so many hooks in the songs, whether it’s making it on to the record or not, we play so much guitar and just write that way, everything is kind of a hook, even the piano, and that generated a lot of vocal melody too, so they associate with that.

FF: If we have too many hooks – you have one big one for the song – but if you have other ideas, sometimes the vocalists will take that, and we can work that in too and we got all those ideas in there. It’s just sort of having fun, moving things around and arranging. Actually, that’s kind of modern, the way the parts interlock. So we can take all this out, or you could almost mix it like a sample record – there’s only 2-3 parts for each song – but each part itself, you might come up with ten ideas that I know will all lock into each other, and I can do any combination that, and I know Clint thinks like that as well. So at that point, you just sort of choose, but at the end of it, it might be the last two ideas that you came up with, and nothing of the original. It’s also very post-modern too. It’s this huge grab bag and we can do whatever we want, and using technology that way too, but not too much.

KK: So do you plan on staying with the sound you have now, or it’s more like you could go all these ways and you don’t even know where you’re going to go yet?

FF: I think we get bored pretty quickly.

CL: I think we could grow in a lot of ways. You’ll definitely hear the main influences in there all the time, but I wouldn’t mind doing some slower stuff, or more R&B stuff, it’s cool because everyone can play so well and know that music so well. That way we can guide it. That way, with all the releases it can be different and then that’s just us.  A lot of bands are coming out now that do a lot of different stuff, like Kurt Vile, and he’s definitely a great example. You can do a lot of stuff and still have your glue together. You can still sound like you. I think if you’re repeating yourself record after record, then what’s the point. You’re just a cover band.

FF: I think even sound-wise, I wouldn’t want the band to get caught up being some retro throwback thing. I think we want the record to sound big in a way.

CL: That’s a good point about live – the way we play live. Felix is definitely more blown out with his guitar, a little bit more aggressive, and it doesn’t sound bad – it really, really works out in our favor, and Al plays really hard on the drums live, so it definitely brings a different perspective to the band. It’s still there, the songs, but they’re coming at you way harder.

FF: It’s all up in your face and everything!

AB: When I go see a band, it should be different from the recording in a good way, because as long as you’re giving what I want from the record that I know of the band, and it’s live, and different, then that’s way more entertaining. Why would I wanna…I could just go home and listen to the record.

FF: Yeah, like when I went to see The Who, it was one of the most boring concerts that I’ve ever been to. I was expecting the world’s loudest rock n’ roll band, but everything was just so dialed in. I look at old YouTube and I want to see THAT. I don’t want to see a bunch of old dudes recreating Tommy. Who cares? It’s like how close you come with 3 people rather than nailing it. That’s sort of interesting to me.

CL: There are some bands where that works for them. Because their record is so, in a way, messed up, you don’t know how to perceive them live. Like Dum Dum Girls. They are excellent live, and they sound really just like their full length. And it’s crazy to get the right amount of noise, reverb and stuff that just destroys live shows, to a T. And perfect. And you have your vocals there too. That is hard to do, but it works for them. Some bands it doesn’t, and they just turn out really boring, but if it’s a bit louder, a bit faster, you have more fun.

CL: And if you guys want to talk to Henry on kraut rock, find him on twitter.

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Henry and I never had our kraut rock debate, but the band did go on to make good on all their live show promises that night. All of their upcoming dates as of now are in Canada, but you can keep up with them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, grab their 7” here, and listen to more on Bandcamp. Warning: these songs will stuck in your head.